Jonathan Bradley: Dan McFarland knows he has to deliver the trophy to Ulster after making a new deal

When Dan McFarland is asked to talk about his coaching influence, he often cites examples from a world farther away than the world of rugby.

A name that comes up often is that of Bill Belichick, a six-time Super Bowl winner with the New England Patriots.

While six days to 20 plus the Atlantic Ocean separates the two men, the couple now have at least one thing in common – impressive longevity compared to their peers.

The fact that Belichick has led the Patriots to more games than his seven predecessors combined makes him something of an exception in the sack-loving NFL, but McFarland’s latest expansion at Ravenhill takes him even further into the unknown. territory.

Taking over in 2018, ending his fourth season, the 50-year-old has already lasted longer than any of those who went to the northern province before him in the pro era.

Indeed, Celtic League winner Mark McCall, aiming for another trophy with the Saracens this weekend, was the only one to even start a fourth, and if McFarland gets that deal, he’ll be in charge of the ship twice as long as the Bangor native.

The longtime Connacht man, who is now linked with the organization until at least 2025, has brought much-needed stability to a job that has proven difficult to hold onto in the first place.

Since McCall retired nearly 15 years ago, Steve Williams, Matt Williams, Brian McLaughlin, Mark Anscombe, Neil Doak, Les Kiss and Jono Gibbs have taken the place that McFarland took.

More importantly, perhaps none of these men took on the job when it was less attractive than it was in 2018. It’s easy to overlook now, but when McFarland took on the challenge, many wondered why the Englishman left his job at Experience Rugby as coach of Scottish strikers, just over a year before a World Cup for the club, which Brian O’Driscoll infamously called “something kind of like a basket.

One can imagine that if this position were available today, there would be many more interested applicants, a testament to McFarland’s success in this position.

Such speculation could only happen if the incumbent decides now is the time to quench his thirst to coach in England or France, or perhaps even return to the Test arena.

Having played in each of Europe’s three major leagues, McFarland has made it clear that he is fully committed to working as a coach, but as he signed a third contract here, he spoke of his “love” for his job at Belfast. Nowadays, it’s like a job that fits the coach and a coach that fits the job.

Having made cultural adjustment a priority when he first took to the table, he quickly realized that the playing team required the same. Gone were the battle-hardened, seasoned campaigners who gave so much to the cause, and young people took their place.

While McFarland himself would no doubt have been the first to give credit to the work of Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson, the Academy’s coaching ticket, when he arrived, there’s no doubt that his belief in the prospect of youth bolstered his coaching success.

Whether it’s the growing faith of the likes of Nick Timoney and Tom O’Toole, or the debuts entrusted to James Hume, Mike Lowry, Eric O’Sullivan and Robert Balukun, all six have grown at a fast pace and moved on. play for Ireland.

With Ethan McIlroy, Stuart Moore, Marcus Rea and Nathan Doak all playing key roles this season, there’s every reason to believe the young core will continue to improve for a few more years.

It would be an exciting group for any coach, but McFarland is astute enough to know that what represented great progress in his first four years at the helm would not count as success at all.
over the next three.

Few expected that the manager, who at the time of his appointment was considered a left-handed player, would take them back to the European quarter-finals in his first season, or to the national final in his second.

But having pulled the province out of its low point, expectations have risen. When his team knocks on the door, this new deal will require them to break in.

McFarland acknowledged this in a statement yesterday, the “unfinished business” he described no doubt still feels even more unfinished due to last week’s last knockout in the URC semi-finals.

“However, the fact remains that our ultimate goal is to win the championship,” he said. “I look forward to starting the process of finding, guiding and supporting people who can do this for this province and its passionate supporters who sincerely share our joy and pain.

“The challenge ahead is huge, but that’s why it’s so exciting. For me, it’s a feeling of unfinished business.”

The elephant in the room, as it was with many of its predecessors, is a silverware drought dating back to McCall’s days. Like McLaughlin and Anscombe, he has already led the team to one final, although he probably thinks the score should be at least three.

Despite the aforementioned progress expected from his pool of young talent, not to mention the fact that his contract has coincided with the last few peak years of the likes of Ian Henderson and Stuart McCloskey, there is no doubt that the challenge of delivering this long-awaited trophy will be decide. to get harder.

Tonight’s URC South African final is a testament to how their inclusion in the national league has made one route to the title even more crowded, while their Champions Cup qualification next season won’t make things any easier.

Even Leinster has struggled in the past month as there is now a perception in many circles that they need some imported star power to match the biggest of the parties. While Ulster certainly has Duane Vermeulen and another big name is expected to be signed after the World Cup, the days of a trio or quartet of such players playing in tandem are over.

The task, as McFarland notes, is “enormous.” It’s just what he signed up for.